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Special 9/11 panel facing obstacles

Associated Press, 21 January 2003


WASHINGTON -- Sixteen months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, an independent commission charged with investigating what happened is only beginning to confront a task complicated by a ticking clock, limited finances and the high expectations of those who lost loved ones.

The commission, which holds its first meeting next Monday in Washington, will have just $3 million and 16 more months to explore the causes of, preparations for and response to the terrorist hijackings that killed more than 3,000 Americans at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

By comparison, a federal commission created in 1996 was given two years and $5 million to study legalized gambling.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks came to life last year in a compromise between Congress and the Bush White House, which had initially opposed it. Relatives of Sept. 11 victims had lobbied strenuously for the independent panel.

The 10-member commission, chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, was given 18 months to get its work done, and the clock started ticking in late November.

Mary Fetchet of New Canaan, Conn., who lost her son Brad on Sept. 11, said time is of particular concern because lawmakers spent months debating whether even to have a commission.

"I would have hoped this would be up and moving forward by now," Fetchet said. "I'm concerned about (an attack) happening again, yet so much time has passed before we've taken a good complete look at what the failures were."

Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and some of the victims' relatives say they doubt the commission can do a thorough job with only the $3 million authorized by Congress. Corzine predicts a push on Capitol Hill to raise the amount.

During a conference call last week, about a dozen relatives decided to dig more into possible conflicts of interest that commission members might face as they probe the inner workings of American government.

"We simply want to alleviate any worry, on anyone's part, that this commission will not go where the facts lead them," said Kristin Breitweiser of New Jersey, whose husband Ronald died at the World Trade Center.

There is no shortage of ideas on how the commission should expend its limited time and resources.

Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., has urged the commission to probe the nation's procedures for approving visas.

Steve Morello Jr. of South Carolina, whose father Steven died at the World Trade Center, said he hopes the commission investigates the role of Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, in the attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Sally Regenhard of New York, whose son Christian was among the firefighters killed, said the commission should study the response on Sept. 11 by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the metropolitan New York airports and owned the World Trade Center towers.

"What happened or didn't happen in those precious minutes before the second plane hit? What information did the Port Authority have or know? These are issues that remain in the darkness," Regenhard said.

Bush signed the law creating the commission on Nov. 27 and named former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as chairman. But Kissinger, who runs an international consulting firm, resigned 17 days later in response to questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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